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Why Does My Dog Have Bad Breath? The Causes Of Canine Halitosis Explained - PawSafe

Why Does My Dog Have Bad Breath? The Causes Of Canine Halitosis Explained

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

mouthwash blog post

Navigating the issue of bad breath in dogs can be a perplexing journey for pet owners. Known medically as halitosis, this condition can range from a mild inconvenience to a symptom of underlying health issues. The quest for fresher breath for our canine companions often leads us down a path of dental hygiene routines, dietary adjustments, and even professional veterinary care. 

Dr. John Rawlings and Dr. Neil Culham from the Waltham Research Centre For Pets have delved into the complexities of canine halitosis, shedding light on its causes and potential remedies. In fact, it is such a common issue, experts think up to 30 to 50% of dogs have bad breath!

Their work provides valuable insights into how we can address and manage this common problem in our pets. So, let’s break all the common reasons for bad breath in dogs.

7 Most Common Causes of Bad Breath in Dogs

It is perfectly normal for your dog to have a bit of a smell coming from their mouth. Usually, poor oral health and medical problems like periodontal disease and kidney issues can cause stinky breath in dogs. An overgrowth of bacteria due to an improper diet could be why your dog has bad breath, or sometimes your dog could eat something smelly.

an infographic showing causes of canine halitosis

Regardless, getting up close and personal with a dog suffering from halitosis is an unpleasant experience, no matter your love for them. So if you find yourself gagging the next time your dog tries to give you kisses, it’s time to address the bad breath. Here are 9 causes of stinky breath in dogs. 

1. Poor Oral Health & Dental Disease

dog with severe stage four tooth decay and dental disease with lost teeth

Canine periodontal disease is a major risk associated with poor oral hygiene and bad breath. You may not see any pervasive signs of this disease until it reaches the later stages, as it’s a silent invader. Periodontitis bacteria accumulate and infect your pup’s oral cavities and could lead to bone and teeth loss. You will observe a terrible smell from your pup’s mouth if they have periodontitis. 

If you don’t brush your dog’s mouth regularly, plaque will build up on the teeth, eventually hardening to tartar. The film of bacteria (tartar) leads to a foul smell when it breaks down food particles trapped in your dog’s teeth. The overgrowth of bacteria can cause gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums. 

Dogs with misaligned teeth (malocclusions) or crowded teeth are at a higher risk of dental issues. This is most common in smaller dogs, especially as they tend to eat wet or canned food that doesn’t scrape off the bacteria during chewing. Smaller breeds are also more prone to having overcrowded teeth that can lead to stinky breath since there are plenty of little spaces for bad bacteria to hide in.

Studies show regular dental chews are one of the best ways to scrape the bacteria and plaque off your dog’s teeth and help freshen their breath.

Introducing your puppy to brushing at a young age will make them more open to it as they age. It’s best to treat dental diseases like periodontitis before they advance into more severe stages. 

The PawSafe dog mouthwash is an effective solution to helping maintain good doggy dental hygiene. This mouthwash contains an all-natural dental formula that cleans and whitens your pup’s teeth. Regular dental checkups — yearly or even bi-yearly for small breeds — ensure that your dog’s teeth remain healthy. 

2. Your Dog’s Diet

Bulldog eating food from red bowl diet may cause bad breath in dog

Looking at your dog’s diet might give you some clues about their bad breath. Dry food can be better for their teeth because chewing helps keep plaque at bay, while wet food doesn’t offer that perk. Then there’s the fishy diets that might leave your pup’s breath less than fresh, and those carb-heavy meals can also be culprits since dogs don’t break down carbs in their mouths like we do.

There’s cool research out there showing a specific dietary supplement could really turn the tide on doggy breath. This supplement, packed with goodies like propolis, sage, and even some egg albumen, made a big difference in reducing those stinky sulfur compounds that cause bad breath. So, switching up your dog’s diet or adding some of these elements could be a game-changer.

And here’s a fun fact: not just mint, but parsley, basil, and cilantro can also freshen up your dog’s breath because of their chlorophyll magic, fighting those bad breath odors. Tossing a bit of cilantro into your dog’s bowl might just be the breath freshener they need.

Of course, dogs being adventurous eaters might go for some… let’s say, less appetizing snacks (hello, cat poop), which doesn’t help their breath situation. Keeping an eye on their snack choices and tweaking their diet might just make cuddle time a lot more pleasant. Always a good idea to chat with your vet to figure out the best plan for your pup’s pearly whites and their breath.

Kidney Disease

Kidney problems result in the failure or difficulty of the kidneys to expel toxins and wastes from the body. You will notice bad breath in your dog If wastes accumulate in the bloodstream. A stench of fish or metal in the mouth could mean your dog’s is struggling to get rid of built-up ammonia. This means kidney problems.

Renal failure is a grave topic of discussion among pet owners. You mostly observe kidney problems when the kidneys have already undergone significant damage. In fact, your dog can lose as much as 75% of function before pet parents notice any symptoms.

Kidney disease can either be acute or chronic. Acute kidney disease is fast onset but treatable, while chronic is much more slow-acting but fatal too. Your pup may experience acute kidney failure If they ingest toxic substances like antifreeze or certain plants, so keep these products locked away. 

4. Liver Disease

Fetor hepaticus is the distinct musty odor of liver failure that you cannot miss in dogs with severe liver issues. With liver disease, vital metabolic processes of filtering toxins from the body fail to happen in the liver. The result is that wastes, such as sulfur substances, make their way to the lungs, which your dog exhales.  This causes smelly breath.

This awful smell occurs along with other signs such as yellowish eyes and tongue (jaundice), lethargy, decreased appetite, and vomiting. If you suspect organ failure in your dog, promptly schedule an appointment with the vet to diagnose and manage the disease while still in the early stages.

Some dogs may also have congenital liver problems such as liver shunts that make it difficult to break down proteins. This can cause a deadly build-up of ammonia in the system.  It’s important to have breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers who are prone to liver issues screened for this as it affects their dietary needs.

5. Diabetes

With diabetes in dogs, cells cannot properly absorb sugar from the blood due to decreased sensitivity to insulin. When the cells become energy-deprived, they burn fat instead of blood sugar, producing ketones, a type of acid. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious condition that can even poison your pup’s body due to elevated acidity in the blood and you can often smell it on your dog’s breath.

 The result is not precisely awful breath, as with most conditions discussed. Most people report the smell due to diabetes as sweet-smelling or fruity. This smell results from an accumulation of acetone in the blood from fat metabolism. Watch out for other signs like increased thirst and urination typical in diabetic dogs. 

6. Foreign Objects Stuck in the Teeth

Two American Bully dogs chewing on stick may get something stuck in teeth that may cause bad breath

Dogs often chew items indiscriminately, some of which get stuck in the teeth and rot if they’re organic. Chewed bones can splinter if your pup is an aggressive chewer and eats brittle poultry or cooked bones. Bone splinters can pierce the gums and get stuck in your puppy’s mouth. 

This can lead to infections or rotting organic material between the teeth, which can create a terrible stench.

It’s easy for your dog to contract an infection when foreign objects get stuck into the teeth. These infections lead to a foul smell because the fresh around the affected area rots if the object remains. Bone splinters lead to other severe conditions like gastrointestinal blockage and even choking. Examine your pup’s mouth for injuries if you notice a foul smell, decreased appetite, and indications of pain. 

Despite all the yucky and foreign objects that find their way into your dog’s mouth, some people claim that dogs have clean mouths. 

7. Imbalanced Gut Microbiome

If your dog’s breath smells bad, it might be because their tummy bacteria are out of whack. Imagine their tummy as a tiny world filled with good bacteria that help digest food. Sometimes, bad bacteria crash the party, leading to tummy troubles like upset stomachs or even more serious stuff.

If you’re making your dog’s food at home but not getting the recipe quite right, you could accidentally mess up this bacterial balance. Also, your furry friend might be allergic to something they’re eating regularly, which doesn’t help their tummy situation. This mix-up can make their stomachs produce stinky gases, and you guessed it, lead to bad breath.

There’s a bit of a debate about raw food diets. Some think it’s the way to go, while others worry about nasty bacteria like salmonella, which can mess with your dog’s mouth and make their breath stink. Whether you choose raw or cooked food for your pup, just make sure you’re getting advice from your vet to keep your dog happy, healthy, and not so stinky.

My Dog’s Breath Smells Like Rotten Eggs: What Does It Mean?

If your dog’s breath smells like rotten eggs, it could be a sign of dental problems or gum disease. This smell often comes from bacteria in the mouth that produce sulfur compounds. Regular dental care and check-ups with your vet can help prevent these issues.

Is It Normal for My Puppy to Have Bad Breath?

Yes, it’s relatively normal for puppies to have bad breath, especially during teething when their mouths can harbor more bacteria. However, it’s essential to start dental care early to prevent long-term issues and ensure it’s not a sign of something more serious like intestinal worms.

Can Bad Dog Breath Be a Sign of Serious Health Problems?

Absolutely. Besides dental issues, bad breath can indicate serious health concerns like diabetes (fruity breath), kidney disease (ammonia-like breath), or liver problems (extremely foul breath). If your dog’s bad breath persists, it’s crucial to see your vet for a thorough examination.

Best Home Remedies for Dog Bad Breath

Regular Teeth Brushing

Using dog-specific toothpaste, brush your dog’s teeth regularly to reduce plaque and bacteria.

Healthy Diet

Feeding your dog crunchy, raw fruits and vegetables can naturally help clean their teeth.

Dental Chews and Toys

These are designed to reduce plaque and stimulate the gums.

Fresh Water

Always ensure your dog has access to fresh water to help wash away food particles.


Adding fresh parsley to your dog’s meal can help freshen their breath due to its natural deodorizing properties.

Remember, while home remedies can be effective for mild cases, consulting your vet is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment, especially for persistent bad breath issues.

Dental Hygiene Routine for Dogs to Prevent Bad Breath

A solid dental hygiene routine is crucial for preventing bad breath in dogs. This should include daily brushing with dog-specific toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush. Regular dental check-ups and cleanings by a veterinarian can also help maintain your dog’s oral health and catch any issues early.

Best Dog Food for Preventing Bad Breath

Choosing the right dog food can significantly impact your dog’s breath. Foods that promote a balanced diet and include natural, high-quality ingredients are best. Look for foods with crunchy kibbles that can help reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Foods rich in dental health-promoting nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids can also help.

Can Dog Treats Help with Bad Breath?

Yes, certain dog treats are designed to improve dental health and freshen breath. Dental chews, in particular, can reduce plaque and tartar buildup while stimulating the gums. Look for treats that have been approved by veterinary dental associations for the best results.

How Often Should I Brush My Dog’s Teeth to Prevent Bad Breath?

Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth daily. Consistent dental care is key to preventing the buildup of plaque and tartar that can lead to bad breath. If daily brushing isn’t possible, aim for a minimum of three times a week.

Should I Get My Dog’s Teeth Professionally Cleaned for Bad Breath?

Yes, professional dental cleanings are an important part of your dog’s dental care routine. Veterinarians recommend professional cleanings once a year to remove plaque and tartar buildup that can’t be addressed with brushing alone. This can also help prevent periodontal disease, which is a common cause of bad breath.

Dog Bad Breath After Eating Poop: What to Do?

If your dog has bad breath due to eating poop (coprophagia), it’s important to address the behavior directly. Training and supervision can help prevent your dog from engaging in this behavior. Adding meat tenderizer or certain supplements to your dog’s food can also make their feces less appealing. Always consult with your veterinarian for personalized advice and solutions and see this article on how to stop a dog eating poop.

Final Thoughts 

Bad breath in dogs results from improper oral hygiene, medical issues like liver and kidney problems, and imbalanced gut microbiota. Failing to brush your dog’s teeth leads to plaque buildup which causes oral diseases like periodontitis. 

If the bad breath is an immediate concern, dental rinses like the PawSafe dog mouthwash get rid of odor promptly. A medical examination is crucial if you notice awful doggy breath that isn’t normal for your dog. This examination helps diagnose and treat underlying medical conditions responsible for stinky breath.


Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.